Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas 2017: December 3

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

When I first heard the premise for “Rise of the Guardians,” I thought it was a pretty cool idea. This would essentially be “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” but with mythical childhood characters. However, I guess I misread the plot synopsis when I first came across it. For a long while, I thought the film's heroric team – led by the likes of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny – would also feature the Boogeyman. That they were all working together to protect the world's collective child from some greater evil. That struck me as a potentially profound idea, that fear is just as important a childhood emotion as glee or joy. But then I saw the trailer and, ho hum, the Boogeyman was the bad guy. I saw the movie eventually and was underwhelmed by it. However, it has developed a minor following as a holiday movie.

In the world of “Rise of the Guardians,” all the figures of childhood belief are real. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman aren't just responsible for their specific holidays or events. They are Guardians, mystical beings pledged with protecting the world's children. Jack Frost doesn't like that style. The wintry imp has widely been forgotten by modern day youths and resents that fact. However, when a greater evil – Pitch the Boogeyman – returns to threaten the children, the Guardians are forced to recruit Jack Frost. The frosty sprite will find his convictions tested and will rediscover his own past on his way to becoming a hero.

Did I mention that “Rise of the Guardians” is a Dreamworks production? That studio has never really overcome its stigma as a second-class also-ran to Pixar. However, Dreamworks eventually found their niche producing acrobatic animated action films. This is what would elevate “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung-Fu Panda” above the studio's typically dreadful work. “Rise of the Guardians” falls into a similar category, being a kid-friendly adventure film. The script builds a superhero style story around the public domain characters. Some of the twist on the legends – Santa being a tattooed Russian, the Tooth Fairy as a hummingbird like creature – are interesting. So is the gang collectively taking its orders from the Man in the Moon, a mysterious stand-in for God itself. The action scenes are decent too, such as the gang's first fight with the Boogeyman, in the clouds. Or when Jack Frost chases a night-mare across a city's rooftops.

One reason Dreamworks' movies are rarely as well loved as Pixar's is the quality of animation. Pixar films from the late nineties still look pretty good. This movie is just a few years old and its animation has already aged horribly. First off, the character designs vary from totally generic to outright ugly. A couple of the kids the Guardians are protecting have squished, unappealing faces. Their pet greyhound looks dreadful. The Boogeyman's design is obviously derivative of Hades, from Disney's “Hercules.” The lack of detail in the animation is apparent at times, as the characters' movement can be quite stiff and unconvincing. “Rise of the Guardians” was also made during the 3D revival. So there's plenty of scenes of shit flying towards the camera.

Another bad habit of Dreamworks' animated features are star-studded casts, that favor name recognition over actual vocal talent. “Rise of the Guardians” has plenty of A-list talent in the film but the voices usually fit the character. Hugh Jackman as an action-fied Easter Bunny is an especially inspired choice. Jude Law clearly had some fun hamming it up as the Boogeyman. Isla Fisher is nicely warm as the frantic, sweet Tooth Fairy. Alec Baldwin does well as Santa but, due to the Russian accent, barely sounds like the star. That makes you wonder why Dreamworks bothered to get the big name actor. Chris Pine does fine as Jack Frost but Pine's tough guy voice seems at odds with the elf-ish character he's playing.

“Rise of the Guardians' is not technically a Christmas movie. It actually takes place around Easter, as the Bunny repeatedly reminds the other characters. However, the role of Santa Claus, his elves, and a late winter snow certainly qualifies it for December viewing. There's some amusing touches in the movie. Like Santa's workforce of yetis or a cameo from a dinosaur. The modern internet being what it is, the film would quickly develop a following. (Some fans even went as far as to pair Jack Frost and Elsa, from “Frozen.”) I, however, am not much of a fan of this one. It's a fairly generic kiddie flick. And, hey, how come Halloween and autumn were left out? Couldn't they have used Jack of the Lantern instead of Jack Frost? [6/10]

The Angry Video Game Nerd: An Angry Nerd Christmas Carol

While he's best known for riffing on shitty video games, James Rolfe's long-running “Angry Video Game Nerd” series has always been pretty creative within that framework. For his second Christmas special, the Nerd cracks jokes over a shitty game but also does something a little more. The first half of “An Angry Nerd Christmas Carol” is devoted the Nerd reviewing “Home Alone 2” for the Super Nintendo. The second half has the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future taking the Nerd back and forth through time. Naturally, some more reviews are thrown in, such as “Shaq-Fu” and some Wii shovelware.

The review segments of “An Angry Nerd Christmas Carol” are solid stuff, in the classic mold of the series. The “Home Alone 2” game is especially baffling. The unusual set of enemies include evil suitcases and vacuum cleaners. Some of the enemies also loose their clothes when you strike them. The Ghost of Christmas Present scene is where Rolfe inserts a review of “Shaq-Fu,” one of the most notoriously awful SNES games. His reaction to the bizarre story line and odd characters are amusing. I especially like the digression about other phrases you can add the suffix “-fu” too.

The Christmas carol riff is hardly inspired on its own. However, it's most amusing for the personal peaks it gives us at James Rolfe's life. The past segment features the content creator's real childhood home videos. We see him as a little kid, critiquing “Super Mario Bros. 2” and loosing his temper at a video game for the first time. It's pretty cute. The future segment is prophetic, in a sense. The Ghosts of Christmas Future, played by the Grim Reaper sprite from “Castlevania,” shows the Nerd as an old man, with a goofy beard and a grey shirt, riffing on shitty games that where then new. Considering its been ten years and James Rolfe is still playing this character, still reviewing shitty games, that prediction came true in a sense.

While not his most inspired seasonal offering, as I still think the Bible Games reviews are my favorite, this is still a solid Christmas episode for A.V.G.N. fans. It also makes it clear that, even from the show's early years, that Rolfe was interested in doing more stuff than just creatively swearing at old video games. Even though he does that a lot too. [7/10]

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